Commitment Termites (Article 3 of 5)

The ants that eat away team effectiveness: Overcoming lack of commitment

Have you been in a team where decisions are made but never fully supported by everyone? Meetings end with unclear next steps, and team members seem disengaged or hesitant to take responsibility. That’s what a lack of commitment may look like, and many teams experience this, which negatively affects progress and performance.

In our exploration of Patrick Lencioni’s five dysfunctions of a team, we began with the foundational aspects of trust and the importance of healthy conflict. With trust established and healthy conflict embraced, teams are better equipped to address the next critical dysfunction: lack of commitment. In this article, we will examine how a lack of commitment can hinder team progress and explore some strategies to foster commitment within teams.

Why Commitment is Important

Commitment is defined as “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.” (Oxford University Press, 2024). In a team context, it means that all members are fully on board with the decisions made and are dedicated to achieving the team’s goals. It is not just about agreement but about alignment, unity, and the willingness to take appropriate action. Often, people will nod during meetings, but their actions thereafter will show the opposite. Lencioni emphasizes that commitment involves clarity and buy-in. When team members are clear about the goals and how to achieve them, and when they feel their opinions have been heard and considered, when the arguments have been argued and all points of view thoroughly dealt with then they are more likely to commit to the team’s decisions. This happens when robust debates are embraced, and all aspects are explored.

A lack of commitment commonly stems from ambiguity and a lack of input. When decisions are unclear or team members do not feel their voices are heard, they are less likely to buy into the outcomes, resulting in half-hearted efforts and a lack of enthusiasm. If a team member has reservations about the decision but cannot or will not voice their doubts, then they are less likely to take appropriate action. This issue is compounded if the team has not overcome the second dysfunction, fear of conflict.

Causes and Consequences of Lack of Commitment

Ambiguity is a significant factor in the lack of commitment. When goals and expectations are not clearly defined, team members may feel uncertain about their roles and responsibilities. For example, a team may be instructed to change their process for handling customer feedback but may not understand why this change is necessary, how it will affect their day-to-day activities, or whether there are better solutions. This creates uncertainty that can lead to hesitation and procrastination, as team members are unsure of what is expected of them. When this happens, you often hear leaders talking about struggling with resistance, but that’s just a symptom of an underlying issue: ambiguity or lack of transparency and clarity.

Unheard doubts are another significant factor. The point of having a team is to harvest the diversity of skills and experience in the team. When doubts are discouraged or badly handled in the meeting, then execution after the meeting is compromised. These missed opportunities to model and embrace healthy conflict and diverse perspectives result in team members feeling like their opinions and ideas are not valued or considered in the decision-making process. Without a sense of ownership, there is no commitment to decisions. This can create disconnection and disengagement, which ultimately undermines the team’s effectiveness. Nothing gets done if people are not passionate enough or motivated to put their best foot forward, for a “good cause” or at least one they understand.

This will be evident in delayed project completions, inconsistent performance, and a lack of accountability. Some team members may prioritise their individual agendas over the team’s goals, leading to division and poor performance.

What Can Leaders do

  1. Mine for Conflict and Ensure Clarity: Lencioni emphasizes the importance of deliberately uncovering doubt and uncertainty, with its root cause, to pave the way for clarity and commitment. Airing all possible doubts creates the necessary conditions for teams to move from uncertainty to clarity, which ensures that everyone is clear on what needs to be done. In his book “The Advantage,” Patrick Lencioni advises organisations to “overcommunicate clarity” through cascading messages, simple language, and repetition. Team commitment starts with clarity on the why, purpose, measurable goals, defining roles and responsibilities, and the establishment of specific timelines. The WorldsView Academy programme, Purposeful Teams™, is rooted in the belief that clarity of purpose, combined with a personal (individual) and shared (team) commitment to that purpose, is the most powerful catalyst for effective team performance. Regularly revisiting and reinforcing this can help maintain clarity and alignment in the given context.
  2. Model Commitment: Leaders play a crucial role in setting the tone for commitment. In everything we do, I always emphasize walking the talk. It is critical for the leader to be seen to be doing things that are consistent with the decision taken – to give courage to the team to do the same. Leaders need to be wary of saying one thing and doing something else, demonstrating their own commitment to the team’s goals and consistently following through on their promises, they can inspire the same level of dedication in the people they lead. This can create a culture of accountability and follow-through. Jim Collins, in “Good to Great,” discusses how great leaders create cultures of discipline and commitment within their teams. Collins argues that leaders who build a culture of discipline enable their teams to thrive because every member understands and commits to the team’s goals and values. This disciplined approach ensures that team members do not just go through the motions but are genuinely engaged and dedicated to the collective success of the team. It also builds trust, as discussed in our first article; trust is the foundation of high-performing teams. Team members are more likely to commit to decisions when they trust that their leaders are committed to supporting and working towards the same goals.
  3. Review and Reflect: Regularly reviewing progress and reflecting on outcomes can help reinforce commitment. Teams need to constantly reflect to see what’s working and what behaviors or processes no longer serve them, building resilient learning teams. Continuous learning is key as it strengthens the sense of unity and purpose. The practice of reflection is very powerful, it also provides an opportunity to engage in healthy conflict and address any lingering ambiguities or concerns that might hinder commitment. Healthy conflict should be an ongoing way of being for teams, not just a task to be completed. At WorldsView Academy, we build all our programmes on conversations and peer learning, an integral part of our methodology, supporting development and sustainable impact. 

Essentially, overcoming the lack of commitment is crucial for building cohesive and high-performing teams. By ensuring clarity, modelling commitment, and fostering a learning culture, leaders can build teams where commitment thrives. As we move forward to the next dysfunction – avoidance of accountability – we will explore strategies to ensure that team members hold each other accountable, further strengthening the foundation of healthy, effective  teams that achieve collective goals. 

Stay tuned for our next article!